A Man of Courage and Refinement: Willard Richards’s Grooming Kit

    Museum Treasures

    This artifact is not currently on display.

    This grooming kit, owned by Dr. Willard Richards, shows the refined side of a faithful and courageous man of God. Richards was trained as a doctor of herbal medicine and cultivated an air of respectability and refinement appropriate to his profession. He shaved his face clean until his death in 1854 and regularly had his hair cut, combed, and curled. While most men of the time would have had some kind of grooming kit that included razors, soap, scissors, and a mirror, Richards’s kit is uncommon due to its elaborate and, no doubt, costly manufacture. The carefully joined wooden box frame has been covered with finely tooled and dyed leather. The case opens up into a mirror stand. The brush handles and face- or hair-powder shaker are made of ivory. Leather loops sewn into the center would have held scissors, razors, and combs. The jars for soap and pomade (perfumed hair ointment) are made of cut glass and have finely engraved silver lids. The man who owned this kit clearly took great care of his appearance and his possessions.

    But Willard Richards’s life proved him to be more than the average man of refinement. A man of letters, he gave lectures on scientific subjects throughout New England.1 He was introduced to the gospel by his cousin Brigham Young, who then baptized him in December 1836. Six months later, while Richards was living in Kirtland, Elder Heber C. Kimball invited him to join him as a missionary to England—leaving the next day. Richards accepted the call and served faithfully.2 He later served as Church Historian and as a secretary to Joseph Smith.3

    Willard Richards is perhaps best known, however, as an eyewitness to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. He went to Carthage with the brothers and vowed to stay to the end. He recalled that Joseph asked him, “If we go into the cell, will you go in with us?” He responded, “Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you—you did not ask me to come to Carthage—you did not ask me to come to jail with you—and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do; if you are condemned to be hung for treason, I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.”4

    Although he could not die for the Prophet, he stayed and fought with him, using his cane to deflect the enemies’ guns.5 He saw Hyrum fall and then Joseph. When John Taylor was injured, Richards pulled him to safety, covering him with a mattress. Fully expecting to be the next one shot, Richards was surprised when the mob, having fulfilled their mission to murder the Prophet, left the building.6 It was then that Richards recalled something the Prophet had told him more than a year before, that “the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment.”7 Willard Richards survived the attack unscathed and was able to care for the bodies of his fallen friends and report what had happened.

    He remained faithful in the gospel for the rest of his life, leading a company of pioneers across the plains and serving as a counselor to President Brigham Young.8 Truly this man of refined tastes lived a life of faith, service, and courage.



    [1] “Richards, Willard,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Dec. 22, 2014,,%20Willard.

    [2] “History of Willard Richards,” Millennial Star, Mar. 4, 1865, 133–34.

    [3] “Richards, Willard,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Dec. 22, 2014,,%20Willard.

    [4] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 460.

    [5] Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 281–82.

    [6] Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 283.

    [7] History of the Church, 6:619; Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2001), 349.

    [8] “Richards, Willard,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Dec. 22, 2014,,%20Willard.